Back to Journal

Handwoven pendant lights by Ilala celebrate traditional African craft

UK-based label Ilala works closely with rural African communities to make its perfectly imperfect pendant lamps and light shades

Ilala lamps
Handwoven pendant lights by Ilala celebrate traditional African craft
Lori Bolon
July 31, 2022

Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.
This article was originally posted on Making Space, a Substack penned by our Cofounder, Matteo Grand. Subscribe below to receive more content just like this.

Character, movement and meticulous workmanship define Ilala, the interiors brand specialising in contemporary, high-end furniture and bespoke lighting, handwoven in Africa.

The label was founded in 2018 by Miranda Vedral, a former interior designer living in Somerset. While visiting Cape Town, she arranged a meeting with a supplier working closely with Africa’s rural weaving communities in Malawi and Zimbabwe, which led to the launch of Ilala. She now works to empower these communities, which are largely made up of female makers. 

“I travelled extensively through Africa when I was younger and always knew I would be back somehow,” comments Vedral. “The opportunity then happened naturally.”

Unique designs are sustainably made from natural and undyed plant fibres, ranging from sun-baked indigenous grasses and cane river reeds to the ilala palm, after which the company takes its name. Sculptural pieces are pleasingly imperfect and irregular, celebrating the artistry’s natural bumps and bends. Shapes range from large-scale, generously round pendant lamps, primed for high ceilings, to smaller shades that cast beautiful shadows for an atmospheric space. 

Compositions are assembled in Africa and finished in the UK, with a fully transparent supply chain. “They are so organic that we often find traces of mud when they arrive,” says Vedral. “We love the unbleached natural tones and rustic informality of our wonderfully woven, wonky wares, which complement period properties and modern homes alike.” Lighting can also be finished with bespoke brass or bronze fixings.

Here, Vedral discusses her creative process and the importance of giving back to the community.

I am very specific about the Ilala collection. Each one has been personally selected by me on the ground in Africa and no two pieces are ever the same. Of course, we can find ‘matching pairs’ but they are never an exact match, which we love.

It is very important to us that the communities we work with gain financially and that the funds are put back into the weaving community and process. For example, obtaining more seeds to plant and people to employ. In one case, the women of the community made their own bricks to build a sun shelter – a crucial respite from the relentless African heat. Through our global partners, many are taught skills such as invoicing, so they are very much part of the whole process.

Our Giant Tonga pendants are woven around a metal frame, which is welded first and dispatched safely to the rural weaving communities. These take around four to six weeks to make. Smaller shades, such as our Binga Platter, can be made in about a week. Once they are in the UK, the lead time is four to six weeks to get wired up. 

I'm drawn to textured walls and soft palettes. My own personal style is natural and minimalist, with clean lines and the occasional funky fabric. My showroom in Somerset is plain white with woodwork painted in a very soft pale pink (Farrow & Ball Great White), which works well as a backdrop for Ilala products. I prefer pared-back and high-quality pieces, which have room to breathe. Interior designer Rose Uniacke is very good at this. 

I love seeing how clients use our products and the different spaces they go into, from an elegant townhouse to a country cottage. Our Bulawayo Garlic Gourd lamps have taken pride of place in large Georgian hallways in London, as well as an architecturally-designed villa in Montenegro. Lighting and furniture is endlessly versatile. It can be adapted to any style of interior and adds a welcome layer of natural texture. 

Browse our favourite Ilala lights: